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Football solution flawed

Mike Marchand | Monday, February 23, 2004

Following a 10-win season in 2002, Notre Dame’s football team struggled to a 5-7 mark in 2003 against one of the toughest schedules in collegiate football history. While many Irish fans remain optimistic about the possibility of a Re-Return to Glory in 2004, a group of frustrated (and, I must add, more distinguished) alumni have expressed disappointment with the program via a letter to the University’s Board Of Trustees.The letter was sent to the Board before their winter meetings earlier this month. When the Board didn’t respond or address any of the issues, the independent Web site NDNation (whose members were the authors) posted it and invited other alums to sign it. Although critical, sometimes harshly so, of the direction of the program, in their final analysis, the writers make three suggestions which have little to do with the on-field play: making football the preeminent focus of the Athletic Department, giving the Athletic Director more control over the coach-hiring process and appointing a layperson to the Executive Vice President position. These are reasonable, principled proposals, and I agree heartily with their implementation.Only, I didn’t sign the letter.I have absolutely no problem with the plans, only the manner in which they were presented. First, the letter states that winning football, along with academic distinction and Catholic values, represent “the three pillars on which the University was built.” Although I agree that football has helped Notre Dame “hold its unique place among American universities,” the “pillar” analogy is still flawed. For one, I highly doubt Father Sorin arrived at the lakes in 1842 and envisioned the University he created to be fundamentally supported by a sport that hadn’t even been invented. Also, as vitally important as football is, Notre Dame was, is, and always will be a scholastic university with a football program, not the other way around. Equating football with learning and Catholicism is a disservice to the latter two. The football program is best seen as the vehicle by which hundreds of thousands of young men (and eventually, women) came to recognize how wonderful Our Lady’s University is. At best, to refine the analogy, it buttresses the other two pillars.Second, while the authors explicitly claim that the letter “is not a call to fire Tyrone Willingham,” the underlying intent is clear that the writers desire his removal. Willingham is the only person associated with the program to even be mentioned by name in the letter, and considering that the authors argue that the program is in marked decline, especially recently, to only name Willingham is a subtle note that they believe his leadership to be distinctively inadequate. They also believe (as per their second recommendation) that Willingham’s employment was the result of “ineffective and unaccountable” hiring practices and the latest in “a series of mediocre and poorly vetted coaching hires.”My third qualm is with some of the people who’ve gone on record as agreeing with the letter’s intent, specifically certain members of NDNation.com. While intelligent people (obviously, considering their alma mater) and possessing the best of intentions for both the football program and the University, these are not the people I wish to see issuing judgments. For example, in an exposition called “Hard evidence that the ACP has fully infiltrated the student body,” one message board poster claims that “[Father Edward] Malloy is succeeding in his effort to jade the student body with persistently piss poor football in order to fully instill his culture of indifference.” By the way, “ACP” stands for “Ass Clown Posse,” a term which, near as I can figure, is used on just about anybody who has any sort of disagreement, including most members of the NDToday.com message boards, who are mostly students and young alumni.The “Hard evidence” thread was a specific response to NDToday, and it wasn’t pretty. Some brief excerpts: “[T]he majority of posters there are geeks to the highest degree”; “They should have just enrolled someplace else. They really should have. They are a disgrace to the history of our University”; “[P]seudo-intellectual losers”; “These people have no SOUL!”; and “[P]hilosophical troglodytes.” One person even came after me, because I either 1) bought a book, Alan Grant’s Return To Glory: Inside Tyrone Willingham’s Amazing First Season At Notre Dame, 2) said they were “stupid,” or 3) mentioned that the alumni were the ones who sold out the team on Sept. 9, 2000, creating the “Sea Of Red” for the game against Nebraska.So far, the online version of the letter has gathered 2,000 alumni signatures, according to NDNation. I’m only one alumnus, and my platform is much smaller, but this ass clown wishes to state that he agrees with the letter, but with reservations too substantial to affix my name to it.Go Irish.

Mike Marchand, class of ’01 and Honorary Member of The Ass Clown Posse, posts on the NDToday message boards, but look closely, for he hides his identity well. Despite this column, he is still proud to be a Notre Dame alumnus, which is why his e-mail address is [email protected] His column appears every other Monday.The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.